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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Columnist: Nicholas Mawunyah

Arresting perrenial exams leakage: Open Letter to WAEC

WAEC is the main terminal exams body for Junior and Senior High Schools in Ghana WAEC is the main terminal exams body for Junior and Senior High Schools in Ghana

Dear WAEC,

I sincerely feel in your frustrations with regard to alleged leakages and malpractices in the ongoing WASSCE after all that you invested into ensuring an incidence-free examination this year.

On Wednesday 15th September, you postponed sine die two papers – Business Management and Physics – in the ongoing WASSCE for what turned out to be another leakage of the questions. These are trying moments for the West African Examinations Council, and one can feel how distraught you might be feeling considering how much time and resources you have invested into promoting integrity in their examinations.

There is no playing the ostrich that these alleged leakages, ‘foreknowledge’ and malpractices in general are undermining the integrity of WAEC-conducted examinations and for that matter, eroding the efficacy of our pre-tertiary education examination outcomes. I am glad though that you have at least shown a modicum of candour by admitting the leakage although your press release stopped short of calling it widespread. In your own words, the leakages were not ‘extensive.’

This admission though is a departure from the past when your body used to refer to such ‘alleged leakages’ as ‘foreknowledge’ in the bid to shirk responsibility. By this admission, I commend you and join you in asking the public to help improve the integrity of our examinations. Against this backdrop, I do not think criticism of you is the way forward now although it is within our rights as citizens concerned with examination integrity to bash or condemn you when you go wrong in the conduct of examinations.

This is so because there is leakage fatigue in the country. Instead, this should be a time for constructive criticism of you since some of the solutions to this ‘ritual’ appears to be above and beyond WAEC even though you yourself must be seen to be doing a lot more without being too defensive.

It is important to understand the nature of what we are dealing with as malpractices. For purposes of this piece, I classify the malpractices into three main domains: one, leakage of examination questions; two, collusion/ organized cheating in the examination halls; and three, fake certificate syndicates.

Although these together ensure integrity in examination outcomes and credentialism, it appears the attention of the Ghanaian public has been overly concentrated on the first of the three domains, perhaps because of its newsworthy nature. But that is just part of the problem WAEC is grappling with.

With this recognition, we can now imagine the enormity of the challenge and the need to confront this canker together as a nation. As a principle, I seek to put forward some suggested measures for consideration by you and your other important stakeholders in our attempt to nip in the bud what appears to be a ritual of examination malpractices especially with the advent of social media.

On the matter of the perennial leakage of examination questions, my view is that you should take some bold measures that will include rocking your own boat of how you conduct examinations. My suggestion is for you to abolish the current depot arrangements and instead equip each centre with state-of-the-art printing press.

With this arrangement, all it will take you is to have at least seven sets of questions for a given paper say Mathematics or English Language. With the technical support of your strong IT department, the questions can be programmed and then randomized when it is time for printing at the various centres.

This arrangement will mean that you do not have to print questions at a centralized point and distribute them nationwide. With the questions having been programmed with time, no centre can go ahead of you in printing any question unless it is say thirty minutes to the start of the paper during when your system in Accra can give authorization to all centres to do the printing of the papers under the supervision of your external monitors.

With randomization of the questions, different students will have access to different set of questions but with the same weight. For example, in Mathematics Elective, eight different questions in Calculus may be given and be distributed to eight different sets of candidates.

The programming should be such that not more than two of your staff should have access to the keys to any paper. It should be done in a way that the time of printing a paper should appear on each paper. This arrangement will make nonsense of any leakage and demoralizes candidates over the appetite for ‘apor’ as they will be uncertain of which set of question they will be entitled to in the hall.

With the adoption of this arrangement, each centre can be made to keep their answer booklets while you designate a common depot for clusters of schools to keep all their scripts.

With regard to the problem of collusion/ organized cheating in the examination hall, I suggest that you take some bold and drastic measures in reforming your systems with regard to invigilation and supervision of examinations.

The current system of relying on teachers of the same schools to invigilate and supervise the examinations is no longer fit for purpose. It is part of the problem and requires urgent attention. As a solution, WAEC should now consider the possibility of swapping invigilators/ supervisors although this is hugely expensive.

By swapping, I suggest that with the collaboration with the GES as hasbeen the case, teachers of say Chemu Senior High School in Tema will be asked to go invigilate papers at Tema Senior High School whilst teachers of Temasco go to Methodist Day Senior High School [MEDASS] and MEDASS teachers go to invigilate at OLAMS.

Alternatively, WAEC can engage the Ghana Education Service at the district levels to prepare invigilation time table for each school by the inclusion of willing teachers from all senior high schools in the district in the time table.

This will mean that at every examination centre, we will see teachers from different schools in the district invigilate the papers alongside some from the same school.

You can generate this list yourself after receiving inputs from the schools. In the long term, you should invest in infrastructure by building district examination centres where cluster of schools can gather to write their examinations as is the case with your NOV/DEC examinations.

Better still, you may have to go the way of the Ghana Statistical Service by advertising vacancies for invigilation/ supervision every year ahead of the conduct of the examinations.This advertisement should spell out important basic requirements such as educational qualification, experience in invigilation, integrity requirements among others.

This should be followed by shortlisting, interviewing, training of the successful applicants and oath taking ahead of deployments. The sworn oaths should be kept at the courts and successful applicants are reminded of the need for integrity, the flouting of which they will be prosecuted.

Collaborating with the Ghana Education Service Headquarters in Accra, WAEC should at the beginning of each academic year, that is long before the commencement of the examinations, collate data such as name, gender, educational qualification, rank, subject being taught and photograph of all teachers in all schools in the country. This data should be provided WAEC by the GES Headquarters.

This will serve as a basis of comparison for the invigilation list that the schools provide a few weeks to the start of the examination. This way, it will be difficult for the schools to allow subject teachers to invigilate their own subjects. Collectively, these interventions have the potential of redressing the problem of collusion and organized cheating in the examination halls.

Another area worth considering is the number and quality of depot keepers. This is one area you have not averted your minds to, although huge problems exist there too. The current system ought to be overhauled. At the moment, a cluster of schools some of them cutting across two, three or four districts are providedwith a common depot centre where the question papers are kept and collected each day by the respective schools.

The centres, until this year when an additional person has been added, used to be manned by one GES staff in charge of examinations and one WAEC depot official who also plays the role of‘external supervisor’ at the respective centres within the cluster. A cluster may have as many as eight or more centres some of which are twenty or more kilometres away from the depot centre.

As part of the routine, the WAEC depot official in addition to providing security to the papers also has a duty of visiting the centres to observe proceedings.

Disappointingly, however, these WAEC officials are not provided with means of transport to enable them visit all the centres within the cluster.
The effect of this shortcoming is that your officials end up spending almost all their time with the centre which hosts the depot while most of the other centres are left without WAEC external supervisors.

In the event they visit any other centre, some do not spend quality time there to really observe proceedings of the examinations. They only do spot checks after which they leave the centre. This negligence is a sure recipe for collusion and organized cheating in those centres where there are no external supervisors throughout the duration of the paper.

Coupled with that point is the fact that you ought to be a lot stricter on your external supervisors/ depot keepers; they are as human as anyone else and can be prone to the vicissitudes of the system.

It is not enough to punish candidates and their schools for examination malpractices. You must also hold accountable your own depot keepers/ external supervisors. You may begin by setting them high performance targets, and those whose clusters record malpractices should be held accountable.

This can help do away with any grand collusion and complicity at the centres. Some of the police who are expected to provide security to the papers and the centres may also be complicit in the grand cheating and malpractice at some centres, hence your grand solutions should involve the top echelon of the police administration on whom you can rely to check the ill-attitudes of some of the recalcitrant police personnel.

Meanwhile, the remoteness of some of the schools from the depot centres also imply that some schools are occasionally ‘late’ to the depot centres for the collection of the day’s papers.

Whereas this practice can encourage leakage of the papers in transit, it can also make such centres write ‘past papers’ since candidates in those centres would have had foreknowledge of the questions before they officially start the paper. In effect, papers don’t get started at the same time in all centres largely because of this problem of remoteness of some schools from the depot centre.

As a solution to this systemic problem, you should in addition to your permanent staff hire some temporary staff as external supervisors during the period of the examination so that each centre, however remote, will have its own external supervisor who may be preferably rotated daily to avoid familiarity and possible compromise.

Further, you should train your depot keepers/ external supervisors in the taking of footages of proceedings in the examination hall. This means that these supervisors should be equipped with body cameras or video cameraswith which they can take these footages and immediately transmit same to a server in Accra for review by a standby team of experts.

Also, you with the support of the government should resource yourdepot keepers with logistics such as vehicles for their movements within the cluster and for independent transportation of question papers to the centres without having to rely on the schools to convey the papers themselves.

Respectfully, you should also consider the possibility of creating new depots closer to some ofthe schools.Importantly, you must scale up integrity checks for yourdepot keepers and supervisors. You must for instance develop a workable gift policy with strict compliance and sanctioning regime.

Another solution worth considering is for you to include candidate’s contact number(s) as one of the requirements for registering for your examinations especially the WASSCE. This will not only help WAEC in tracking the social media engagements of the candidates during the period of the examinations, but it will also assist you and your partners such as the Cyber Crime Unit of the Ghana Police Service to randomly collate feedbacks from some of the candidates after the examinations to enable WAEC form its mind on the happenings at the centres.

More so, WAEC must also take more serious trend analysis of the respective centres/ schools. You must have a way of tracking schools whose performances have shot up overnight and apply appropriate sanctions if found to have indulged themselves in some organized collusions or cheating. The sanction should include name and shame.

Respectfully, you must also recognize that your age-old practice of relying on your script markers to detect and report collusion and cheatings has not worked well. At the moment, many script markers complained that the procedure for redressing the issue is cumbersome and places too much of burden on the script marker who reports such practices. Accordingly, many are not willing to report them even if they detect them in their marking.

This is giving too much of incentives to the centres that cheat or collude in the examination halls. By way of recommendation, I suggest that you take more serious quality assurance in the conduct and marking of your examination papers.

Thus, rather than rely on the current practice of asking script markers to write reports on detected collusion or cheats, you should contract the services of expert test assessors and evaluators (university lecturers) whose duty it will be to vet, assess and evaluate marked scripts and provide independent reports to WAEC to act on before the release of examination results.

Moreover, you need to engage the public more in your activities by shunning your practice of detaching yourself from the public. As part of this, you should provide toll-free contacts to the public as well as enhance your social media visibility to enable you receive quick feedbacks from the public.

You should also be seen to be encouraging whistleblowing without blowing the cover of your whistleblowers. Is it possible you can leverage GPS code, drone services and social media tools such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube to monitor live proceedings at all examination centres? You may upon consultation with experts consider piloting it and see its feasibility for upscaling.

WAEC should also discourage schools with big halls from using classrooms as examination rooms during the WASSCE/BECE as this constitutes another potential trick of promoting systemic and organized collusion and cheating in the examinations.

Finally, you should also collaborate more with the Ghana Police Service to work on the integrity levels of the policemen/women they deploy to the centres during the examinations. You cannot win the battle against examination malpractices if you do not ensure that the police themselves are not complicit in condoning, encouraging or promoting the practice.

Laudable as these interventions might appear, their full realization is cost dependent. At the moment, WAEC may not have the financial wherewithal to implement all these interventions, however, sound they are. To do so, you will have to charge realistic fees in the registration of candidates for all your examinations.

But since full cost recovery in the registration of candidates is a remote possibility, government will have to come to your aid by shouldering the onerous responsibility of assisting you by way of logistics such as vehicles, printing equipment, video cameras, body cams and computers. Government will also have to take up the invigilation/ supervision fees by ensuring that invigilators/ supervisors are well-paid to conduct the examinations.

It is my humble opinion that should you consider and implement some of these important interventions, you will at least reduce to the minimum the frustrating practice of examination malpractice which will in effect guarantee the integrity of your examinations.

A humble concerned Ghanaian,

Nicholas Mawunyah

The writer is an education practitioner, education disrupter/ innovator, leadership coach, researcher and an analyst.